Lower-income people in the United States have more respiratory issues and lung-related disorders like asthma than richer people, according to a study published Friday in JAMA Internal Medicine.
According to the statistics, over half of people with yearly household incomes in the lowest percentiles in the country report shortness of breath or trouble breathing, compared to just under 30 percent in the top percentiles of family income.
Furthermore, low-income persons are three times more likely than their richer counterparts to report a “problem cough”
According to the study, children and adults in low-income families are also more likely to develop asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than those in higher-income families.
Despite decrease in smoking and increases in air quality in the United States over the same period, these patterns have typically stayed the same, if not worsened, during the last 60 years.
“From the 1960s to today, socioeconomic inequalities in lung health have persisted, and in some instances even worsened,” study co-author Dr. Adam Gaffney told UPI in an email.
“This occurred despite improvements in air quality, overall smoking rates, healthcare access and workplace safety, suggesting that the benefits of these advances have not been equitably enjoyed, [so] our lungs reflect the inequalities of our society,” said Gaffney, a pulmonary specialist and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Mass.
The findings are based on an analysis of lung health data for more than 215,000 people across the United States, for whom information on household income was available, from 1959 through 2018.
From 1971 through 2018, the percentage of people with the highest household incomes who were current or former smokers fell to 34% from 62%, the data showed.
Among those with the lowest household incomes, the percentage of current or former smokers rose to 58% from 56% over the same period, the researchers said.
By 2018, 48% of those with the lowest household incomes nationally reported experiencing shortness of breath, up from 45% in 1971 and higher than the rate of 28% for wealthier individuals.
In 2018, just under 17% of adults in low-income households in the United States had a “problem cough” compared to 6% of those in higher-income households, an increase from 14% in 1988.
In 2017-18, the prevalence of asthma, also known as chronic shortness of breath, among children was 15% in the poorest families and 7% in the wealthiest.
Similarly, by 2018, 16% of people in low-income households had been diagnosed with COPD, compared to little over 4% in higher-income families.
A research released earlier this week found that persons living in lower-income homes, as determined by ZIP code, were more exposed to air pollution and high temperatures.
“We all need safe air, safe workplaces and high-quality healthcare [so] we need to advocate for the policies that can make a difference,” Gaffney said.
“We should move to improve air quality standards, workplace safety and achieve universal, comprehensive healthcare,” he said.